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Greek Olive oil: The liquid gold

Precious and unique, sacred and secret, powerful and shining, old and eternal, the olive tree, rooted in the Mediterranean soil and in the life of humankind, passes through the history of human societies loaded not only with the valuable weight of its fruits, but also with the charming lure of a symbol, and encompasses the major practical and intellectual aspects of Greek civilization, through its long journey.

The olive tree and its products can be considered as a genuine part of Mediterranean cultural heritage, as mythology, religion, cultural identity and the diet of the region are interwoven with the cultivation of the olive tree for more than 6,000 years.

Greece, due to its privileged position at the crossroads of three continents — Europe, Asia and Africa — became the indisputable center of olive tree cultivation and of olive oil production.

Most of the global olive oil production comes from the Mediterranean region, where 95% of over 750 million olive trees worldwide cultivated can be found. Europe, with nearly 500 million olive trees, has more than ¾ of the world’s cultivated olives.

Of the total European production, 97% comes from Spain, Italy and Greece. With more than 132 million trees, Greece devotes 60% of its cultivated land to olive growing, and – despite its small size - holds the third place in world olive production, using the most advanced methods and the most sophisticated technologies.

It is the world's top producer of black olives and has more varieties of olives than any other country.

As the competitive advantage of Greek olive oil in relation to that of other countries is its fine quality, about half of the annual Greek olive oil production is exported. Greece is the largest exporter of Extra Virgin and Virgin olive oil, with 1/3 of the total Extra Virgin and Virgin olive oil production being exported.

The rapid development of Chinese Economy during the last decade resulted, inter alia, to the significant improvement of living standards, while at the same time the opening of China to the West and the transition from centrally planned Economy to the status of Market Economy contributed to the massive import of new products to the Chinese market and to the enhanced access of Chinese consumers to completely new habits of consumption.

Besides, advertisement becomes a major factor for the promotion of imported commodities, and the ongoing tendency to adopt a way of living that will resemble more or less to the lifestyle of Western societies requests the purchase of foreign products, which are deemed to offer to the consumer prestige and social approval.

This socially determined tendency is combined with the gradual emphasis that Chinese people put on the quality of their nutrition. Imported products gain ground in the preferences of the Chinese market, and analysts foresee that by 2018 China will be the biggest market of imported commodities worldwide.

The enhanced information on the major importance of nutrition for the health leads more consumers in China to the decision to taste the Greek olive oil, a product already known to China, due to its therapeutic and cosmetic properties, but only recently appreciated for its nutrition value and for its contribution to healthy diet. The olive oil promotes skeletal development, nourishes skin, reduces the risk of cancer, reduces cardiovascular and cebrovascular diseases, alleviates diabetes, prevents osteoporosis and, mainly, is anti-aging.

China is the top destination of Greek olive oil in Asia. Greek olive oil is considered more genuine, healthy and natural product, and Chinese consumers are willing to buy it even in a relatively high price, as they are convinced that Greek commodities always combine traditional standards of production with high quality.

This fact is reflected in the increase of the value of olive oil exports to China by 71% on annual basis in the first semester of 2012.
The preference for Greek olive oil is definitely enhanced by the excellent level of bilateral Sino – Greek relations and by the favorable framework of trade cooperation.

When, in the year 2008, President of the People’s Republic of China, Hu Jintao, as part of his official visit to Greece, went to the island of Crete, and was given a guided tour of a model olive-oil producing cooperative in the village of Peza, at Irakleio Prefecture, he referred to the importance of the agricultural cooperation between the two countries, and stressed that he knew Crete produced high quality olive oil, and that new horizons were opening up for the product on the Chinese market.

Besides, in the village of Peza, Mr. Hu Jintao visited an olive grove, where he took part in the collection of olives from the trees – a move that has been interpreted as tangible display of China’s vivid interest in olive products.

Moreover, the importance attributed by Chinese leaders to the enhancement of trade cooperation in the field of olive oil can be traced in the fact that, during the official visit of Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, to Greece, in October 2010, the willingness of China to import competitive Greek products was affirmed, and Chinese Vice Premier, Zhang Dejiang, stated during his official visit to the island of Crete, in June 2010, that the increase of Greek olive oil usage in China foretells that in the near future, Cretan olive oil production will not be enough to cover the demand of China.

Therefore, the broadening of the exporting activity and the creation of mutually beneficial synergies in the field of Greek olive oil export to China will lead to the development of the sector and to the expansion of the Greek “liquid” gold to one of the most important, challenging and interesting markets worldwide.

by E. Moutsaki